(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire George Soros warned of the “mortal danger” of China’s use of artificial intelligence to repress its citizens under the leadership of Xi Jinping, whom he called the most dangerous opponent of democracies.

“The instruments of control developed by artificial intelligence give an inherent advantage of totalitarian regimes over open societies,” the 88-year-old said on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it’s undoubtedly the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

The former hedge fund manager said China is developing a centralized database that will use algorithms to determine whether a person poses a threat to the one-party system. While the so-called social credit system is not yet fully operational, “it will subordinate the fate of the individual to the interests of the one-party state in ways unprecedented in history,” Soros said.

“I find the social credit system frightening and abhorrent,” he said. Soros drew a distinction between Xi and the Chinese people, saying the latter remain a main source of hope.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized Soros on Thursday, saying his comments were “not even worth refuting.”

“We hope relevant individuals can take a correct attitude and take a long-term perspective to view China’s development in a rational and objective way,” she said at a news briefing in Beijing.

Criticizes Putin

At the Davos conference last year, Soros lashed out at social-media giants Facebook Inc. and Google. He compared them to gambling companies that foster addiction among users and said that they exploit the data they control. Soros on Thursday reiterated the need to regulate technology firms while authoritarian regimes declare theirs as “national champions.”

“That’s what has enabled some Chinese state-owned companies to catch up with and even surpass the multinational giants,” he said.

In his speech, Soros touched on subjects including his childhood, running a hedge fund and his efforts to protect human rights. He spoke at length about China, criticizing Xi and the nation’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project as self-serving. He also called out Russian President Vladimir Putin as another enemy of democracy.

“I’ve been concentrating on China but open societies have many more enemies, Putin’s Russia foremost among them,” Soros said.

Soros has become an lightning rod for his political views and philanthropic efforts. A longtime supporter and financial backer of progressive causes and Democratic politicians, he’s become a target of right-wing activists. In October, an apparent explosive device was discovered at his suburban New York home.

In 2011, Soros closed his hedge fund and converted his firm into a family office -- investing solely on behalf of himself, his family members and the Open Society Foundations, a worldwide network of philanthropies.

(Adds Chinese Foreign Ministry comment from fifth pragraph.)

--With assistance from Vincent Bielski, Chad Thomas and James Mayger.

To contact the reporters on this story: Saijel Kishan in New York at skishan@bloomberg.net;Katherine Burton in New York at kburton@bloomberg.net;Melissa Karsh in New York at mkarsh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Margaret Collins at mcollins45@bloomberg.net, Alan Mirabella, Vincent Bielski

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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